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Belle Vernon Area Middle kids aid first-grade Writing Buddies

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, November 11, 2014 7:28 a.m
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Miranda Startare / Trib Total Media
Belle Vernon Area Middle School seventh grader Khalib Davis helps first grader Charles Hillen work on his graphic organizer at Marion Elementary School Nov. 5, 2014, as part of the new Writing Buddies program.
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Miranda Startare / Trib Total Media
Marion Elementary School first grader Karlee Fox learns about organizing her thoughts in the prewriting stage of composition from Belle Vernon Area Middle School seventh grader Autumn Cramer on Nov. 5, 20124 for the Writing Buddies program.
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Miranda Startare / Trib Total Media
Belle Vernon Area Middle School seventh graders and Marion Elementary School first graders proudly display the first graders' graphic organizers and paragraphs about 'Why We Love Veterans' Nov. 5, 2014, at Marion Elementary School. The students are participating in a new writing program called, 'Writing Buddies.' Shown, from left, is seventh grader Andrew Kurta, first graders Jaden Johnson and Joy Johnson, and seventh grader Derick East.
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Miranda Startare / For The Valley Independent
Belle Vernon Area Middle School seventh grader Caitlynn Anderson helps Marion Elementary first graders Kristopher Huang (left) and Richard McMillan (right) prepare graphic organizers during a pre-writing activity Nov. 5, 2014, as part of the new Writing Buddies program.
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Miranda Startare / For The Valley Independent
Marion Elementary Center first grader Hanna Griffith is helped by her 'writing buddy,' Belle Vernon Area Middle School seventh grader Zoe Lynch as part of the new Writing Buddies program Nov. 5, 2014.
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Miranda Startare / For The Valley Independent
Belle Vernon Area Middle School seventh grader Alea Usher helps first grader Cara Seh work on writing a paragraph about veterans as seventh grader Dawson Dimitroff helps first grader Landon Keller with his paragraph Nov. 5, 2014, as part of the new Writing Buddies program.

In anticipation of their school’s Veteran’s Day program, first-graders at Marion Elementary School spent a morning penning paragraphs expressing their thoughts about veterans.

And they received help from seventh-graders from Belle Vernon Area Middle School.

As part of a program established this school year, the first-graders have been learning about the process of composition by partnering with students from Carol Aten Frow’s middle school English classes.

Aten Frow’s Writing Buddies program was born out of a changing elementary school writing curriculum that introduces students to composition in the early grades. The goal is to aid in the development of ideas and organizational thinking.

Marion Principal Dr. Michele Dowell said she has received positive feedback from students and teachers.

Frow’s students partnered with their “buddies” to help them develop paragraphs on favorite after-school activities prior to the “Why We Love Veterans” project.

The seventh-graders, who mostly work one-on-one with the first graders, begin each session with conversations about the topic selected by Aten Frow.

The older students help their buddies develop thoughts and structure them into graphic organizers, tools helpful in the brainstorming – or prewriting – phase of composition.

The Marion students, aided by their buddies, then expand details before writing the final paragraphs.

The program, in its infancy, has proven successful.

First-grade teacher Deidra Stepko has noticed her students are already “becoming better writers and better thinkers.”

“As my students interact with the middle school students, they are discussing new and interesting topics, forming opinions and expressing themselves through the writing process,” Stepko said.

First-grade teacher Sylvia Fafalios said the opportunity to participate in the program excites the young students.

“They ask when the seventh-graders are coming back,” she said. “The students are able to focus well, and the seventh-graders keep them on track.”

The Writing Buddies program will incorporate such modes of writing throughout the year as poetry, compare-and-contrast and letter format.

Each assignment will be tailored to meet curriculum standards, Frow said.

The students will learn about the letter-writing format next by composing letters to Santa, Frow explained.

Frow’s students are eager to participate, she said, adding they “developed an immediate rapport” with the elementary students.

Frow, a 28-year teaching veteran, said her students are already discussing ideas for something special to culminate this year’s program.

Success in the “Writing Buddies” program might result in an expansion next school year, possibly to include eighth-graders and second-graders, Dowell said.

With the introduction of a writing curriculum in the lower elementary grades, Writing Buddies helps provide “a comfortable and confident process for elementary teachers,” Frow said.

“The one-on-one experience is so valuable for teaching the difficult process of student writing,” Stepko said.

“As a teacher of young children, I often wish I could multiply myself to be in many places at the same time. With the help of our middle school friends, I now have over 20 teachers in one room!”

Miranda Startare is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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